TELFORD VICE, Newlands
CLINICAL is the word resorted to when a team sidle to a paint-by-numbers win over flat opponents, and it summed up SA’s performance against England at Newlands on Sunday.
After Friday’s hot pink madness at the Wanderers that earned SA a shot at snatching the one-day rubber, anything less would have seemed boring. And Sunday’s game was much less: less keenly contested, less unpredictable and far less dramatic.
But sometimes less really is more. SA’s five-wicket win made them only the third team to win a five-match ODI series after losing the first two games.
“The difference was hunger,” AB de Villiers said. “We were a bit more hungry than England to nail it down.
“We never lost the belief, even though we were in a really dark place at 2-0 down.”
SA dismissed England for 236 in 45 overs and dealt with their chase with a full six overs to spare.
Even the largest piece of the puzzle of SA’s victory, De Villiers’ 101 not out, did not fizz with the fireworks that cricket’s most exciting batsman routinely brings to the crease.
He reached three figures off 94 balls and, in all, hit 50 of his runs in boundaries. But the most notable fact of his display on Sunday was that he achieved it in his 200th ODI.
It seems an age ago that, in Bloemfontein, SA couldn’t bat their way out of a wet paper bag and then, in Port Elizabeth, bowled as if the ball was a rolled up wet paper bag.
SA’s performance on Sunday thus represented a great leap forward for them. But it was not flawless.
Indeed, for much of England’s innings it was hard to tell which was less sound: the batting or the fielding.
SA held all their catches, bar one – Joe Root on 12 off Chris Morris at slip by Hashim Amla, who looked proper silly when he allowed a sitter to bisect his inner thighs – but at times their ground fielding was a colander under a gushing tap.
It helped SA’s cause, then, that too many of England’s batsmen got out throwing willow at wide ones.
Opener Alex Hales was not among them. He took his effort into the 44th over before pulling Kagiso Rabada to Rilee Rossouw on the square leg fence.
Hales’ 112 stood out in an innings in which no-one else reached 30. The centurion featured in stands of 61 and 70 with Root and Ben Stokes, England’s only partnerships of more than 50.
David Wiese was the chief beneficiary of the visitors’ batting errors for his three wickets, but Rabada and Imran Tahir earned most of the half-dozen they took between them. Kyle Abbott, meanwhile, deserved more than the one wicket he took in curbing the runs to 28 in his nine overs.
Set the lowest target of the series on a flat pitch and without having to bat under lights, SA seemed locked and loaded for success.
But, midway through the eighth over, Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis and Rossouw were done for the day with just 22 runs on the board.
SA would have to work for their win after all – and that work was put in by Amla and De Villiers in a partnership of 125. Again, it wasn’t exciting. But it was effective.
It was also the 11th time Amla and De Villiers had shared a century stand in an ODI, matching the record set by Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs.
Ah, those were the days. Might they be coming around again?